Yoga poses and stress management are among the classes that Canadian nursing students must take before graduating, which is good because the shortage of nurses could be acute due to the March election.
Canada currently faces a national nursing shortage that could affect some 10 million people, according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Part of the problem? It often takes an international student almost seven years to have a provincial health licensing exam result ready, which might not be fast enough for the health care system.
That’s a huge challenge for a country that needs 30,000 new graduates each year.
Yvonne Brown, a vice-president at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), says it’s well documented that health care in Canada is unaffordable to some members of the population.
“In cases where we can’t provide services to [some] people due to funding, those communities have absolutely no choice but to turn to the emergency room,” she said.
“We’re saying to them that in the emergency room is not where you belong, your family is when you’re sick, when you have your own health, it’s where you can’t afford to go.”
Last year the number of Canadians waiting for elective surgery was one of the highest in OECD countries, and some provinces have even seen waiting times reach up to two years. The average wait time for routine surgery in Newfoundland and Labrador was three years, in Manitoba one year and in Alberta eight months.
Canada used to have only 50,000 registered nurses, but that number is up to 82,000. While some factors, such as a shorter work week, have contributed to that number, the CUPE says one of the key reasons is the slow process of licensing nurses.
Brown says some provinces choose to freeze the patient-hours while the nurse graduates, which reduces the number of hours they’re contracted.
“You might actually be worried that your skill or your knowledge is eroded and you get unhappy and then you end up going somewhere else,” she said.
According to Brown, the CUPE is looking at some models that show models have the potential to open up a working RN to a licensed RN quicker. One province where the model has recently been adopted is Alberta, but it has proven to be a volatile process because it doesn’t work for everyone.
“And that’s the frustration for us,” she said.
“We want one health authority, but it’s never going to be that. It has to be a district of the province.”
CUPE wants the government to make the situation for nurses a priority, but says it feels that is being ignored. In order to have a seat at the cabinet table, CUPE members had to go to the polls.